This excerpt from Three Men on a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889) reminds me of my childhood when we often travelled by railways, before the advent of digital tracking, and hopped from platform to platform looking for the elusive trains. It has been hauntingly true since the COVID 19 Pandemic began. God bless those who run and use railways…
We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.
To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform. We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop. But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.
Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train. So we went to the high- level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston. He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was. Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there. We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.
“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said, “what you are, or where you’re going. You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”
“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the noble fellow, “but I suppose SOME train’s got to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it. Gimme the half- crown.”
Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.
We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.